So I was over at Mikey's the other day, doing bong hits and watching episode after episode of Cartoon Network's Aqua Teen Hunger Force, which makes a lot more sense once the sinsemilla turns the reasoning center of your brain to oatmeal. Mikey had Tivo'd a mess of them, and we were halfway through the one where Carl's head acquires a Tonka truck body, when Mikey suddenly emerges from a ganja-induced funk to declare, "Man, I could really go for a cronic blunt right now!"
Well, imagine my confusion. After all, Mikey had just consumed half of Humboldt County, and now he wanted more? Crikey, that bloke loves the demon weed almost as much as he adores vodka martinis! But when I admitted my astonishment at his ravenous appetite for rolled gold, Mikey checked me quicker than you could shout, "Free Tommy Chong!" According to he of the perpetually bloodshot eyes, a "cronic blunt" was what the folks over at Cheba Hut "Toasted" Subs called a 12-inch barbecued beef sandwich.
I was intrigued. Being a gourmand of greatness, I normally eschew all forms of fast food, but any place named Cheba Hut was worth a shot. Plus, I was then suffering from a dual case of what the editors of High Times would no doubt refer to as the munchies and cottonmouth. This Cheba Hut place sounded like a godsend. So I jettisoned all my culinary snootiness and headed to Cheba's Tempe location, which was closer to us than the one in Mesa right across from Mesa Community College.
As one might suspect from a place that drew its inspiration from the Cheech and Chong flick Nice Dreams, wherein the stoner duo strikes it rich with pot-flavored ice cream, Cheba Hut is decorated with numerous Grateful Dead posters, plastic pot plants, Zig Zag ads, pics of Bob Marley, and a humongous fake spliff that hangs over the soda fountain. On the counter where you place your order is an appeal for Mary Jane's legalization, and in the back, near the entrance to the rest room, is a mural which features Pink Floyd album covers reproduced on the backs of nude women. The main mural opposite the sandwich-making station is of a Caribbean seascape wherein even the turtles are blazing up.
Cheba Hut's menu continues this toker theme. Subs come in three sizes: four-inch nugs, eight-inch pinners and 12-inch blunts. And each of the 25 sandwiches on the menu has a name borrowed from the marijuana subculture. Everything from a BLT named the Kush ("A special blend of the old school," reads the description) to the egg-laden Skunk ("You may smell a skunk afterwards"). There's the Endo, basically a Reuben, which is sure to be Dr. Dre's fave, and Mikey's preference, the barbecued-beef-stuffed Cronic, about which we're warned, "Get ready for a nap after this one!"
Because of our draconian legal system, most of the cannabis is in these menu monikers, with nothing illicit in the actual recipes. But there are a couple of legal exceptions. Over some of Cheba Hut's incredibly moist brownies are sprinkled hemp seeds, and there is "hemp cream cheese" in the Griefo, a veggie sub with guacamole, bean sprouts, lettuce and so on. But the hemp itself seems only to affect the texture, not the taste of either the cream cheese or the brownies. And it certainly doesn't get you wasted.
Although at first glance the whole Cheba Hut theme may appear to be simply a clever marketing ploy aimed at college students and old hippies, I found the sandwiches to be quite tasty each of the several times I dined there. Cheba Hut's method of toasting its bread will inevitably invite comparisons to Quiznos, but I'd venture to say that Cheba Hut's sandwiches are easier on the taste buds and far more original. That's not just the munchies talkin', as I returned on several occasions to inhale a number of Cheba Hut's creations, and most of the time I had not partaken of Mikey's bud.
For instance, I took great relish in devouring the Bomb, Cheba's meatball sub with provolone, marinara, mushrooms, bell peppers and pickle spears on a choice of white, wheat or jalapeño Cheddar bread. The meatballs were especially good and reminded me of the character Meat Wad from Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Made me wish Cheba Hut's management had a DVD of the show's first season, which could be played on the eatery's lone TV set. Alas, because of the owners' affection for The Simpsons, that show continually plays on the tube. To each his own. I'm sure The Simpsons is funny if you're stoned, but then again, so is QVC.
I also quite like Cheba Hut's Magic Mushrooms sandwich, with its thinly sliced portabellas, oregano, Monterey Jack cheese, pickle spears and whatever else you desire. I always hold the onions and the mayo, piling on the black olives and mustard instead. Overall, it's a very good sandwich, but a little too light to fill me up. For that, I need animal flesh. That's why I favor the spicy chicken of Cheba Hut's Jamaican Red, with grilled chicken, tangy hot sauce, jalapeños, black olives and Cheddar cheese. Trust me, folks, regardless of whether your idea of fun is playing hacky-sack at an all-weekend Phish concert, if you're not afraid of a little piquancy, the Jamaican Red will slake all hunger pangs.
There are also salads and soups on the menu, but the subs are what bring in the crowds. Of course, those brownies and the Rice Krispies squares don't hurt, either. (Where's the Ben & Jerry's, I wonder?) Cheba Hut always seems busy, no doubt because of the proximity to ASU. The Mesa store near MCC reportedly also does great business. And Scott Jennings, the company's founder, recently moved to Fort Collins, Colorado (for the weather, natch), where he opened a Cheba Hut there. More are planned for Tucson -- and Louisville, Kentucky, of all places.
Maybe one day there will be a Cheba Hut in every college town across the United States. You might even call it "high concept" with broad appeal to the masses. But who should Cheba Hut choose as its celebrity spokesperson? Tom Green? Snoop Dogg? Whitney Houston? Maybe even Arnold Schwarzenegger when he's finished being governor of the biggest pothead state in the nation. As Cheba Hut itself shows, all things are possible.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Phoenix dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.